Several parcels of land spanning a wide area of Central Square, including several prominent locations along Massachusetts Avenue, were recently listed for sale. Speculation surrounds MIT’s potential interest in purchasing the properties, which include several parking lots and the Quest Diagnostics building.
Kathy Fennell and the Fennell Realty Trust are the current owners of the property — valued at over $15 million, according to a recent report in The Cambridge Chronicle. Fennell informed The Tech that the properties are being marketed by Cushman & Wakefield as a single sale but “anything is possible.” The sale properties include both residential and commercially zoned parcels indicating that a variety of development options are possible.
Fennell said there has been “a lot of interest” in the sale, but declined to provide further details in regards to potential buyers or future uses for the land. Robert Griffin, the Cushman & Wakefield realtor handling the sale, declined to comment.
According to Cambridge City Councilor Kenneth Reeves, the Fennel properties constitute “the largest number of parcels to be sold in Central Square in a long time.” In an earlier statement to The Cambridge Chronicle, Reeves expressed his desire that MIT purchase the land. Reeves claims that this statement was based upon his belief that “it would be good for Central Square if the buyer understands the complexity and the beauty of the square.” According to Reeves, MIT fits this description as he feels that the Institute’s cooperation with the Cambridge city government over the last two years has been “very respectful” of local government and its wishes for the area’s development.
Reeves’ only reservation in relation to MIT’s potential purchase of the properties is his feeling that the Institute is “very decentralized in deciding what to do with its large property holdings.”
“It’s not clear if the president, or the faculty, or MITIMCo [the Institute’s investment management company] are calling the shots or if they are even all moving in the same direction,” said Reeves. “I think this is a problem President Reif will soon discover if he has not already.”
In response to an email requesting clarification on MIT’s real estate acquisition strategy, Martin A. Schmidt PhD ’88, associate provost, responded that MITIMCo “monitors the local market. When property in Cambridge near campus comes on the market they bring it to the attention of the senior leadership of MIT. If the property is of strategic interest to MIT for academic purposes, then the senior leadership, through consultation with the Executive Committee of the Corporation, will decide whether to pursue a purchase. If the academic leadership is not interested, MITIMCo will evaluate the property as an investment for the endowment, and the decision for that purchase resides with MITIMCo.”
Steve Marsh, managing director of real estate at MITIMCo, declined to comment on MIT’s interest in the Central Square properties, in relation to either academic or commercial use, saying “public comments about possible transactions can cause unintended consequences for MIT as well as for other participants in the real estate market.”
While the details surrounding the sale are still unavailable, the Cambridge city government appears optimistic that the sale presents a unique opportunity for the development and enhancement of the Central Square area. This corresponds with a great deal of discussion surrounding Central Square as part of the K2C2 planning study which addresses the long term development of both Kendall and Central Square.
At a meeting of the Cambridge City Planning Board held in City Hall on Tuesday evening, one member of the board stated that with Quest “moving out of town, this creates the potential for livening up the [Central] Square real soon.” Time will tell what role, if any, MIT might play in this process.